Today is the day of the big Feminist Fashion Bloggers’ big blogging event. We are asking bloggers to answer the question:
How do you express your feminism in the way you dress?
I initially didn’t really know what to do with the question. I think a big part of moving the image of feminism on, and of events projects like the Fashionable Academics ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ is that feminists come in all shapes and sizes. Some feminists go for an authentic 1950s housewife look. Some feminists live in jeans, tshirt and trainers. Some feminists are bearded men. Some feminists like leopard skin miniskirts and high heels, some prefer maxiskirts and plain shirts. Some people spend 2 hours getting ready, some 2 minutes. Some feminists don’t shave their legs, some have their nails and eyeybrows done every week. There is no one feminist look.
That being said, in the most general sense I would say that I express my feminism by expressing myself through my clothing, as a person, which includes as a woman. I love playing with clothes, with colours, textures and proportions. My style can be quite changeable, one day I will wear a 1950s day dress the next jeans and trainers. I ransack history for inspiration, and I don’t much care for fashion rules or trends.
As a result people often describe my style as bold, and sometimes even brave, but I don’t feel that adventurous really. My playing with clothes is very much within standard social conventions of what a young woman is expected to dress like, just maybe slightly more towards the edges of it. I do like looking pretty and I do use clothes to emphasise my figure in a way that is deemed to be flattering. Which for me, means a lot of full skirts and defined waists.
I don’t, to be honest, think that much about my politics much when picking my clothes, I mainly just have fun. In many ways, I go with what is ‘normal’, and I think that’s fine. But I do challenge expectations in small ways. Thinking about this some more, I thought four ways in which I wear what I wear for feminist reasons:
1. I am not afraid of drawing attention to myself. I will happily wear bright things, and silly things, and inappropriate things. I’m fine with people noticing me. If people don’t like what I wear, they don’t have to, I know I do. I have pretty strong opinions and I don’t care if people know. It’s taken me a long time to get there, but I am genuinely confident now.
2. I shop ethically. In the last couple of years I reckon about 75% of what I have baught clothing and accessories wise has been second hand/thrifted, fairtrade (hello, biannual bumper People Tree sale orders!) or handmade. And I’m aiming for 90%. Obviously, ethics goes beyond feminism, but given that its usually women who work in the garnment industries, paying a fair wage (Fairtrade is particularly close to my heart) can make a massive difference to women’s empowerment. Plus, I refuse to shop at Americal Apparel, after I found out about Dov Charney’s disgusting behaviour. Sweatshop free or not, I am not down with dirty old men using their power as employers to push their sexuality on staff. And not even in the most sexist of merchant banks would anyone think they could get away with referring to female employees as sluts. The sooner AA goes bankrupt the better!
3. I prioritise comfort over anything. It is very very important for me that I can move easily, that I can overeat without feeling like the seams around my stomach are going to burst, that I can run to catch a bus and that I am not too cold and not too hot. I want to be comfortable in my body and I won’t let fashion trends get in the way. That means no high heels, no clothing that’s too tight, nothing too skimpy in cold weather and nothing too covered up in the heat.
4. I do not follow beauty trends. I have never had a facial, a manicure or a bikini wax. I never straightened my hair when poker straight was the fashion. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with beauty stuff, if it makes people happy, but I’m just not interested and I don’t like the idea that I *have* to do anything. Unpainted nails and unplucked eyebrows are natural, there is nothing *wrong* with them, and I think we’re sometimes in the habit of forgetting that. And all this stuff costs so much! I know lots of people who will spend upwards of £100 a months on various treatments, but I’d rather spend the money on something else. Or save it to add to my financial independence.
These are just my own priorities and just to reiterate, I’m not opposed in principle to heels, beauty treatments or unassuming clothes. They’re just not for me, and part of the reason they are not for me is that I am a feminist.
Finally, I do need to caveat all of this by saying that I actually don’t feel under a huge amount of pressure to dress in certain way (as woman or as anything else), which may put my sartorial adventurousness (such as it is) and my ungroomedness into perceptive. I wear what I want to wear but I do so in a pretty open minded environment.
People at work, both men and women, wear anything on a continuum from jeans and jumper to full on designer business wear, and I wouldn’t say that the dressed up ones are necessarily more successful. There is no dress code and a couple of (very odd) remarks from one person aside, noone has ever told me what to wear.
My short experience of academia was no different. I read a lot on the blogs about how for female academics (in the US mainly), dressing too femininely can be a disadvantage, and women are taken more seriously if they dress ‘like men’ and don’t wear their wedding bands! Thankfully, I never saw any evidence of that where I was. While I was doing my Masters at Edinburgh Uni, there was a PhD student who wore pretty full on goth clothes, and several post docs who favoured a heavily made up and beautified look. If there were any differences in treatment, this wasn’t immediately obvious. Even in Dave’s male dominated academic field of genetics, there is diversity of looks. One of his colleagues is all hair extensions and gel nails with rhinestones on, and I’ve never noticed anyone remarking on that.
What about you? If you’re a feminist, is it reflected in your dress?
For a roundup of responses to this question, or to submit your own contribution, visit Mrs. Bossa Does the Do.